January 5, 2023

Specialty coffee must remember that convenience is everything


For centuries, convenience has been cited as one of the biggest drivers of growth and innovation across the global coffee industry. As far back as the late 1800s, European consumers began to value convenience more and more as people started to expect their coffee to be roasted for them, rather than doing it themselves.

In the years since, the definition of convenience within coffee has arguably changed. We’ve seen innovation after innovation, from the rise of instant coffee products in the 20th century to the growth of ready-to-drink (RTD) beverages and capsules. Ultimately, all the evidence shows that convenience has only continued to increase.

So this leads us to a pertinent question: what impact does this have on the coffee industry overall? To find out more, I spoke with the Vice President of Coffee Enterprises Spencer Turer.

You may also like our article on the evolution of convenience store coffee.

A tap in a coffee shop for pouring nitro cold brew and cold brew.

Convenience in the coffee sector today

Although convenience has been important to coffee drinkers for centuries (albeit in different forms), consumer demand for convenience has arguably never been as high as it is now.

“Historically, the launch of pods like the K Cup [and Nespresso], as well as single-cup brewers, led to a significant change in the coffee industry,” Spencer tells me. “Consumer demand shifted from brewing a pot of coffee to preparing it by the cup in a more convenient manner.

“More recently, the explosive popularity of ready-to-drink (RTD) coffee packaged in bottles and cans means consumers can drink high-quality beverages without the need for a barista to prepare them,” he adds.

In recent years, there has been a growing number of RTD coffee beverages available on the market including cold brew, as well as milk-based drinks. In fact, research from Food and Beverage Insider found that in 2017, 19% of new global coffee product launches were RTD beverages.

And there’s no doubt that this figure has increased in the years since as more and more coffee brands launch their own RTD products. For example, Lavazza released an organic RTD coffee range in early 2022, and Tims China is set to launch its RTD products in convenience stores across the country.

“As well as this, the number of coffee shops offering on-tap beverages has increased, which provides businesses with new ways to quickly serve high-quality drinks,” Spencer says. 

These products include cold brew, as well as nitro cold brew and nitro lattes, which are both infused with nitrogen to create a smoother and creamier texture.

Capsules and single-serve coffee products have also become more popular over the past few years. Although coffee capsules were first launched by Nespresso in the late 1980s, more and more competitor brands started to enter the market at the beginning of the 21st century as pods proliferated.

Furthermore, as part of this wider growth in demand for convenient coffee options, instant coffee consumption has stayed high, too. In the US, Statista estimates that the global instant coffee market will be worth around US $147.6 billion by 2025. Alongside this, we have seen more and more specialty coffee brands start to sell instant coffee options, with Blue Bottle – a pioneering name in specialty coffee – launching its own in early 2022.

A customer pays for a coffee and avocado toast using a digital paypoint.

Do people expect more convenient coffee options after the pandemic?

Despite the fact that convenience has been an important purchasing factor for coffee drinkers for many years now, the pandemic undoubtedly accelerated this shift.

A recent study by Deloitte found that in the months since the Covid-19 pandemic, as many as 80% of consumers value convenience more than ever. More than 80% of people surveyed also noted that they expected more flexible shipping and pick-up options – including at coffee shops.

In early 2020, the majority of out-of-home coffee businesses were forced to adapt to new ways of serving customers. In the same year, a UK survey from World Coffee Portal found that 70% of coffee shops in the country switched to takeaway service only, while 67% limited their trading hours, and 57% reduced their menus.

“Social distancing measures meant that coffee shops and roasters had to innovate and change how they operate,” Spencer explains. “We saw more of these businesses offer delivery and pick-up services during the pandemic.

“Some coffee shops also had to stay open with fewer employees, which ultimately forced them to reduce their menu options, as well as to increase their speed of service,” he adds. “In turn, customers started to expect smaller menus, less interaction with staff, limited opening hours, and slower services.

“However, within the specialty coffee sector, our goal was to counteract these potential issues by continuing to serve high-quality beverages,” Spencer continues.

As Covid-19 measures have eased in most countries around the world, there has largely been a return to “normal” standards of service – but demand for convenience remains high.

In line with this, many larger coffee chains have highlighted takeaway and delivery services as key components of their recovery following the pandemic, as well as drive-thru and mobile sales.

A barista uses an espresso machine in a coffee shop.

How are consumer expectations evolving?

It’s evident that coffee consumers certainly value convenience, but just how important is it to them?

A 2021 study from ecommerce platform Linnworks found that almost half of people surveyed said convenience is more important than price when deciding where to shop. In addition to this, following the pandemic, the same study found that 76% of people claimed that convenience was the biggest influencing factor for them when shopping online. 

“Instant gratification has become the norm as more people are trying to optimise their time and multi-task,” Spencer says. “But at the same time, people are now also scheduling in more time to rest and recharge.

“Coffee shops need to understand the needs of their customers, especially when it comes to speed of service, availability of products, and beverage quality and consistency,” he adds. “Consistency in coffee quality and service can make or break a coffee shop – if the quality of coffee changes from day to day, or even shift to shift, then there is a risk of serving lower-quality coffee to customers.”

However, Spencer emphasises that some aspects of the rise in demand for convenience could have a negative impact on coffee quality.

“Significant waiting times have become somewhat acceptable in most coffee shops,” he says. “However, with mobile and online ordering becoming more common, the quality of beverages could slip if the drink is sat on the counter for too long.”

A barista pours milk into coffee to create latte art.

Understanding the long-term implications for the coffee industry

It’s no understatement to say consumers’ focus on convenience has never been higher. In turn, this means more and more coffee businesses are now looking for ways to cater to this demand.

Whether this includes providing contactless pick-up services, using mobile ordering apps, or offering more RTD beverages, there are a number of ways in which coffee shops and roasters are adapting to the rise in demand for more convenience.

However, Spencer highlights that coffee quality is still important – and notes that it should never be an afterthought.

“Convenience is not always synonymous with high quality, and we as an industry are still working on how to improve the consistency of quality with convenient coffee beverages and products,” he says.

Spencer adds that the growing consumer demand for convenience can lead to more coffee shops relying on automation and technology.

“This can challenge the concept of hand-crafted beverages prepared by baristas, but I believe that each coffee shop has its own needs, and therefore its own solutions to adapt to rising demand for convenience,” he tells me. “But ultimately, people still want to go out to coffee shops and socialise, and enjoy being a customer.

“Convenience is a critical consideration for any coffee business, however, it needs to be factored in along with customer service, coffee quality, and the atmosphere and location of a coffee shop,” he adds. “Coffee businesses must understand the relationship between patience and value for each customer they serve, and then develop their brand accordingly.”

Customers in a coffee shop use their phones to pay for their orders.

For the majority of coffee consumers, convenience is one of the most important purchasing factors. Naturally, this means coffee businesses must adapt in order to remain competitive.

However, when it comes to adapting to these demands, there is no “one size fits all” approach for coffee shops and roasters. Finding a suitable solution to cater to this rise in demand – whether that’s selling capsules or offering mobile ordering services – ultimately depends on the needs of each individual business, too.

Enjoyed this? Then read our article on how coffee subscriptions have changed in recent years.

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